The concussion has become one of the biggest battlegrounds in sports over the last few years. Much of the focus remains on heavy-contact sports like football and hockey — and rightfully so, given the myriad of injuries we seem to hear about on a weekly basis from these sports. This article from The Classical, for example, details the struggles Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison underwent in the latter half of this past NFL season and is a fantastic read on the impacts concussions can have on players and people.
The nature of injury in baseball is very different, of course. Rather than large masses of metal and human flying at each other, baseball injuries are caused by immense stress on ligaments. That doesn’t mean the concussion isn’t an issue, though, and we’re seeing that now with Justin Morneau. The 30-year-old former MVP managed just 69 games in 2011 dealing with issues stemming from concussions dating back to 2010. Three concussions in and his baseball career could be nearing the end, just like former Minnesota Twin teammate Corey Koskie.
Morneau talked to Minnesota Star-Tribune writer Jim Souhan about his career going forward Friday. The glass seems less than half-empty for the slugger at this point:
Well, I don’t think there will be a career if it’s something I’m dealing with. That’s the reality of the whole thing. I’m obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem. There comes a point where you can only torture yourself for so long.
Unlike Morneau’s situation, Corey Koskie’s career was ended by one single concussion on July 5th, 2006. Going back for a pop-up behind third base, Koskie slipped and his head slammed into the ground at Miller Park. Koskie managed to get the ball in his glove and it popped out to Bill Hall who made the catch running behind Koskie’s limp body — it was one of the day’s top plays on all the highlight shows. Nobody realized it would end Koskie’s career.
Koskie’s incident is obviously the worst concussion MLB has seen. His issues threatened to take away not just his career but his ability to live a normal life as well. As he told Gordon Edes:
My head hurt, my body was numb, I couldn’t walk through a door, I couldn’t go in the sun, I couldn’t enjoy time with my kids, my stress level was through the roof, everybody was telling me I’m fine and I wasn’t.
Unfortunately, the language Morneau uses — particularly the word “torture” — connects all too well with Koskie’s experience. At least Morneau is at training camp and participating in baseball activities — something Koskie struggled to do at any level following his injury.
As a post-concussion symptom sufferer myself — I sustained a concussion after taking a foul ball off the mask while umpiring a 14-and-under baseball game in summer of 2009 — I can relate with the issues Morneau is dealing with and Koskie dealt with. It must be extraordinarily difficult to deal with such issues in a clubhouse setting (as Koskie mentions in the Gordon Edes article), where people cannot actually see the battle scars of your injury — the pain, fogginess and other symptoms of the injury are enough to deal with on their own. It can be something that feels like it will never go away, and the feeling can be totally helpless — rehabbing an injured brain is not the same as rehabbing an injured knee.
I am fully behind Justin Morneau and rooting for a swift and full recovery. Unfortunately, it sounds like Morneau is starting to deal with some of the same questions Koskie did when it became apparent the injury would end his career. Every case is different, however, and hopefully Morneau can make his way back to the field without further issue.